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Toronto Maple Leafs Sale: Why Rogers, Bell Buying MLSE Is Completely Bizarre

The parent company of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC and others has been bought by Canada's two largest media corporations, Bell and Rogers. This is absolutely bizarre.

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Imagine for a moment that Verizon and AT&T combined together to purchase the New York Yankees.

That's only scratching the surface of what happened Friday morning in Toronto, where Canadian media giants Rogers and Bell Canada teamed up to buy a majority stake in Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the group that owns the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors, among others.

This is even more awkward. Verizon and AT&T don't own television and radio stations, and they certainly don't own stations that are dueling to purchase the rights to broadcast games featuring the teams they just purchased together. They don't own literally the entire media landscape of a country.

Rogers and Bell are the two dominate media forces in Canada. Perhaps a better analogy would be, say, Viacom and Clear Channel, except that doesn't really work either. It's really a pretty incomparable situation, and if you're interested in competition and antitrust law, it's a potentially frightening one.

Let's look at a few reasons why this deal is just completely bizarre, from a business standpoint, a hockey standpoint and everywhere else in between.

  • Bell Canada owns an 18 percent stake in the Montreal Canadiens. They now own a majority share in the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hell, the new owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs has their name on the building the Habs call home. (And the other new owner has their name on the home of another hated foe, the Vancouver Canucks.)
  • Bell CEO George Cope said that they won't be getting rid of that investment in the Canadiens. "We'll work with the NHL to accomodate their needs." It seems as though the structure of the deal will allow Bell to hold an ownership stake in both clubs.
  • On that front, this "relax Habs fans it's going to be alright" press release from Bell is just absolute gold.
  • Those aforementioned radio broadcast rights for the Leafs? They're up for grabs following this season, and the bidding is expected to be a war between TSN Radio 1050 and Sportsnet 590 The Fan. Bell owns TSN, Rogers owns Sportsnet.
  • You thought the Leafs dominated Canadian sports television before? Now they're owned by Canadian sports television. You ain't seen nothin' yet.
  • Take Friday's press conference as an example of where Bell and Rogers are thinking here. Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed said that the purchase of MLSE is the "perfect marriage of content and distribution." They now own the content (sports!) and literally the entire distribution network (sports media!).
  • Okay, not the entire distribution network. Just the following: Bell Mobility, Bell TV, The Globe & Mail, CTV, CTV Two, 87 radio stations, CTV News, MTV Canada, TSN, RDS, Animal Planet, TSN2, RDS2, NHL Network Canada, Citytv, OMNI Television, Rogers Sportsnet, Rogers Sportsnet One, Sportsnet World, Rogers TV and Rogers Wireless. We're probably missing some.
  • Oh, and if you know a Canadian, they probably get their cable, Internet, satellite TV services and cell phone service from one of either Bell or Rogers.
  • There's still competition in television from, uhhh... the CBC. And you have to think that this deal will almost certainly hurt the CBC's ownership of Hockey Night In Canada, which Bell/CTV/TSN has tried to poach away in the past. That deal with CBC is up in the summer of 2014, and it's not going out on a limb to suggest CBC could lose those rights to the new owners of the Leafs. 50-plus years of HNIC could soon be thrown out the window.
  • This deal has the ability to completely alter the landscape when it comes to hockey on Canadian television, and it likely will. Probably in a way that's not too fan or wallet friendly, either. Think pay-per-view stuff, new television networks, etc.
  • Or just read this quote from soon-to-be outgoing MLSE president Richard Peddie, via The Globe & Mail in 2010: "Imagine a channel that had Leafs, Raptors, TFC and Marlies games on it. Imagine what you could charge for that."
  • How many times was the Stanley Cup mentioned at Friday's press conference? I didn't count, but that's because I didn't hear it. Consider precedent when it comes to Canadian media giants owning sports teams: Rogers bought the Toronto Blue Jays in 2000. How's that worked out? 1967 was a long time ago, Leafs fans.

For more on the sale of MLSE, check in with Maple Leafs blog Pension Plan Puppets, Raptors blog Raptors HQ and Toronto FC blog Waking The Red.